Modesty Blaise (1966 film)
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original film poster by Bob Peak
|Directed by||Joseph Losey|
|Produced by||Joseph Janni|
|Written by||Evan Jones, based upon the comic strip and original story by Peter O'Donnell|
|Music by||Johnny Dankworth|
|Edited by||Reginald Beck|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Running time||119 min.|
|Box office||$2.2 million (est. US/ Canada rentals)|
Modesty Blaise is a comedic spy-fi film produced in the United Kingdom and released worldwide in 1966. It was loosely based upon the popular comic strip Modesty Blaise by Peter O'Donnell, who wrote the original story and scenario upon which Evan Jones based his screenplay. The film was directed by Joseph Losey with music composed by Johnny Dankworth and the theme song, Modesty, sung by David and Jonathan.
In 1965 Mim Scala of the Scala Browne Agency saw O'Donnell's strip and acquired the film rights to the character. Scala had the idea of casting Barbara Steele as Modesty with Michael Caine as Willie, but he sold the rights to produce the film to Joseph Janni, who had Monica Vitti and Joseph Losey as his clients.
The film was released at the height of two cinematic trends: The popularity of James Bond had spawned a number of similarly themed films, and many of these films, rather than being serious spy adventures, were instead created as parodies of Bond and his genre. Director Joseph Losey and the screenwriters chose to follow the latter approach, by making Modesty Blaise a campy, sometimes surrealistic comedy-adventure.
The film story sees former crime boss Modesty Blaise (played by Italian actress Monica Vitti) being recruited by a branch of British Intelligence to help prevent a diamond theft, which leads to Blaise getting into conflict with Gabriel (Dirk Bogarde), the effete head of the diamond theft ring who maintains a compound in the Mediterranean where his right-hand woman, the Amazonian Mrs. Fothergill, alleviates her boredom by killing people.
As the mission progresses, Blaise is united with her long-time assistant and confidant, the Cockney Willie Garvin (Terence Stamp), an expert knife-thrower and master of disguise, who owes Blaise a life debt from his earlier life as a criminal.
Release and recording
O'Donnell's original screenplay went through a large number of rewrites by other people, and he often later complained that the finished movie retained only one line of his original dialogue (O'Donnell states this in some of his introductions to reprints of his comic strip by Titan Books). As a result, although the basic plotline and characters coincide with the comic strip, many changes are made. Some are cosmetic—Vitti appears as a blonde for most of the film (except for one sequence in which she actually dresses up like a real-life version of the comic strip character). Likewise, Stamp initially appears in a blond wig and subsequently reverts to his natural dark hair colour. Other changes are more profound. For example, as the film progresses Willie and Modesty fall in love and decide to get married (proclaiming same during a sudden musical production number that erupts during a lull); this breaks a cardinal rule O'Donnell set out when he created the characters that they would never have a romantic relationship (the writer stayed true to this edict to the end of the comic strip in 2001).
There are sequences in the film that coincide with O'Donnell's original story, such as Willie killing a thug in an alley and a few other minor points.
The film includes a metafictional element during one sequence where Blaise, while visiting a friend's apartment, comes across several newspapers with the Modesty Blaise comic strip which are shown in close-up (artist Jim Holdaway's work is prominently shown as is Peter O'Donnell's name). This is followed by the above-described sequence in which Vitti briefly dresses like the character. Supporters of the film suggest this indicates that the 1966 film is not intended to take place in the same "universe" as the comic strip.
Prior to the release of the film, O'Donnell novelised his version of the screenplay as a novel entitled Modesty Blaise. This book was a critical and sales success, resulting in O'Donnell alternating between writing novels and writing the comic strip for the next 30 years. O'Donnell's version of the screenplay was also used as the basis for a late-1990s Modesty Blaise graphic novel published by DC Comics.
The film was a moderate success at the time of its original release, and today is generally considered a camp classic, although fans of the Modesty Blaise character remain divided on its merits. The film was entered into the 1966 Cannes Film Festival.
Two more serious attempts at adapting the comic strip for the screen occurred in 1982 with a made-for-television pilot film starring Ann Turkel as Blaise, and again in 2003 with My Name Is Modesty, a prequel starring Alexandra Staden and omitting the Willie Garvin character entirely.
- Monica Vitti – Modesty Blaise
- Terence Stamp – Willie Garvin
- Dirk Bogarde – Gabriel
- Harry Andrews – Tarrant
- Michael Craig – Paul
- Clive Revill – McWhirter / Sheik Abu Tahir
- Alexander Knox – Minister
- Rossella Falk – Mrs. Fothergill (as Rosella Falk)
- Scilla Gabel – Melina
- Michael Chow – Weng
- Joe Melia – Crevier
- Saro Urzì – Basilio
- Tina Aumont – Nicole (as Tina Marquand)
- Oliver MacGreevy – Tattooed Man
- Jon Bluming – Hans
- Robin Hunter - Pilot
- Alexander Walker, Hollywood, England, Stein and Day, 1974 p302
- "Big Rental Pictures of 1966", Variety, 4 January 1967 p 8
- pp. 75–76 Scala, Mim Diary of a Teddy Boy: A Memoir of the Long Sixties Mim Scala 1 February 2009
- "Festival de Cannes: Modesty Blaise". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 8 March 2009.